The Glass Menagerie is one of Tennessee Williams’s earlier works, consisting of three acts. The play is often seen as autobiographical, because it draws on the author’s own life experiences. The main character Tom Wingfield is based on Tennessee himself. The Glass Menagerie tells the story about a family that struggles with fulfilling its dreams and ambitions.
The characters can be described as “lost souls”, because they are trapped in their own illusions and dreams. The use of symbolism is very powerful in The Glass Menagerie, because it ties everything together. The glass menagerie itself stands for the different aspects of Tom’s imagination (drama). The play was written during World War II – the time when Tennessee Williams himself lived with his overbearing mother. The structure of The Glass Menagerie can be divided into four parts:
1) Prologue Scene I
2) Scene II
3) Intermediate I (Prologue Scene II-Scene III)
4) Scene IV (Intermediate II-Epilogue)
The main character is Tom Wingfield, a young man who has just come back from working away from home. The play begins with a prologue, where Tom is looking back on his past and tries to explain how he got where he is now – living at home again. The first scene shows the family’s life in their apartment: The mother Amanda lost her husband five years ago, therefore she led herself to believe that her daughter Laura is crippled for life. The neighbors complain about Amanda’s “wild” children (Amanda claims that they are all well-behaved).
The second scene takes place a few days later – it introduces Jim O’Connor , an old friend of Tom’s. He visits the Wingfields because he wants to marry Laura. a conversation, it becomes obvious that Jim is very welcome, while Tom is not. The third scene shows that Amanda has invited a gentleman caller to meet Laura – she had been obsessing over the idea of Laura having a boyfriend for quite some time.
The play ends with a few more conversations between Tom and different characters. The various fragments are tied together by means of symbols: The glass menagerie stands for the illusions and dreams of each character throughout the entire play, which ties everything together in the end. The whole story of The Glass Menagerie can be interpreted as one big dream or fantasy (illusion) – like much other work’s by Tennessee Williams.
“The Glass Menagerie” was written during World War II when Tennessee lived in New Orleans with his family who was overbearing and demanding. The audience sees a reflection of Tennessee’s own life in The Glass Menagerie. The characters struggle to achieve their dreams and ambitions, which is probably why it has been interpreted as autobiographical by many critics. The play can be divided into four parts, each consisting of one scene: The prologue shows where Tom is today (living at home again) and how he got there (the past).
The first scene introduces the two main characters Amanda Wingfield and Laura Wingfield – they live in an apartment with the latter being crippled. The second scene includes a guest called Jim O’Connor who wants to marry Laura. The third scene involves another gentleman caller named Alonzo who comes to visit Laura in a very awkward situation. The play ends with a mix of conversations and monologues and the story comes full circle (Tom explains how he got there again).
The Glass Menagerie stands for the dreams and illusions of Amanda, Laura and Tom throughout the entire play. The animals are fragile, but they represent strength to them – illusionary strength. In other words, The Glass Menagerie can be interpreted as one long fantasy or dream – each character has its own “glass menagerie”. The symbolism is very powerful in The Glass Menagerie because it ties everything together in the end.
The characters in The Glass Menagerie have not found their place yet – they still struggle to achieve their ambitions even though society does not allow them to do so. The scene changes show changes in the timeline of The Glass Menagerie, which is important to keep track of when interpreting The Glass Menagerie as a dream or a fantasy. The play is not all together realistic (besides the fact that Tennessee Williams used his own experiences in The Glass Menagerie).
The following images are all from the 2012 Broadway production of The Glass Menagerie by The Roundabout Theatre Company with Jessica Lange, Joe Mantello and Christian Slater. The images are part of Designing Laura’s World: The Blue Bottle Tree by Catherine Zuber . It can be purchased at various retailers including Amazon ( click here ).
The Glass Menagerie represents the dreams and illusions of Amanda, Laura and Tom throughout the entire play. The glass is fragile, but it represents strength to them – illusionary strength. The following image shows The Blue Bottle Tree as a backdrop for Laura and Jim O’Connor’s conversation in the second scene of The Glass Menagerie. The blue bottle tree is a very important symbol throughout The Glass Menagerie, but it does not have any symbolism without Amanda’s monologue about the blue bottle tree being her daughter Laura.
The next image shows how The Blue Bottle Tree lights up during Amanda Wingfield’s speech in Scene Two:
“I am a thirty-year-old charwoman down at the Washateria on Twenty-eighth Street. I come home at night through the alley and up our back stairs like always, and then I unlock our back door with my key. And then inside the kitchen I turn on the light to the stairs that lead up to where you children are sleeping in the back room, and then I start climbing those stairs, but they’re steep like a ladder almost and very narrow.” The next image shows The Blue Bottle Tree as The Green Arbor which symbolizes Tom’s memories of Laura: “All at once there comes creeping across the lawn-silent, secret, like wild animals stealing toward you-” The blue bottle tree is representative for The Wingfield family (Amanda, Laura and Tom).
The following images show The Blue Bottle Tree during Tom’s speech when he describes his job at The Warehouse: “…the work’s too hard and the hours are too long and it doesn’t pay enough and I haven’t had a raise in three years. The foreman is a son of a bitch, but he’s stuck with me because old man Corley likes me even if The Warehouse can’t see it.”
The next image shows The Blue Bottle Tree as The Green Arbor where Laura sits: “I’m sitting by the fire escape outside my bedroom window, looking out at the moon over the alley and listening to the fight downstairs between Jim O’Connor and his wife…” The green arbor also symbolizes memories for Tom (Memories of Laura).